Chile | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press



Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status


Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)


Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)


Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)


Chilean law provides for freedom of speech and of the press. Although laws in the penal code and code of military justice and the State Security Law prohibit insulting state institutions such as the presidency, the legislature, and judicial bodies, there was at least one legal improvement during the year. Post-Pinochet governments have generally respected the constitutional right to freedom of expression, but definitive reform of the legal code has been more problematic. Desacato (disrespect) laws, which impede reporting on the government and military authorities, were eliminated from the penal code in 2005, and the same year Congress also reformed the constitution to eliminate defamation as an offense against public persons. However, desacato remains in the code of military justice and can be applied against civilians. In addition, the ambiguously worded criminal prohibition of threats against public officials allows the law to be interpreted in much the same way as desacato, according to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). While constitutional provisions allowing censorship have been eliminated, at least two books remain banned under judicial order since 1993: Humberto Palamara’s Etica y Servicios de Inteligencia and Francisco Martorell’s Impunidad Diplomatica. Supreme Court rulings have never equated judicial bans with censorship. The government did not act on a 2005 IACHR ruling calling for the state to end the Palamara ban and modify prohibitive laws. On a brighter note, for the first time, the IACHR ruled that access to information is a fundamental human right. The Court ruled in September in favor of Chilean activists who were denied government information about Trillium Ltd., a U.S. company backing a controversial logging project. The Court ordered Chile to release the information and adopt legal and other measures to guarantee effective access. Again, government compliance has yet to occur.

Investigative reporting and the expression of leftist viewpoints in the mass press continued to be difficult because of the concentration of state and private advertising in just two center-right newspaper companies. The newspaper Diario Siete, whose editor, Monica Gonzalez, won the 2005 Fundacion Nuevo Periodismo prize, and the literary-political criticism magazine Rocinante both closed for financial reasons. Some demanded state support for alternative publications, but the proposition is controversial. Chilean reporters, in part because of their experiences during the dictatorship and the narrow choice of viable employment, are considered among the hemisphere’s most passive. Chile is generally a safe place to practice journalism. However, police or violent crowds injured several reporters last year. Six journalists were injured or detained by police during a student strike in August. President Michelle Bachelet called the attacks “unacceptable” and dismissed the head of the force responsible. In May, two photographers were wounded and four media vehicles destroyed during a union march. Police arrested 70 suspects related to the attacks. In December, pro-Pinochet crowds insulted, beat, or threw objects at reporters around the time of the former dictator’s funeral.

Press ownership is highly concentrated in the hands of two companies that received preferential treatment during the conservative military dictatorship that left power in 1989. Left-oriented, investigative publications have trouble surviving financially and receive little or no government advertising. Chile maintains a mixed public-private system that is considered among the Americas’ most diverse; even those stations owned by the state are considered to be independent of government influence. However, indigenous voices are not fairly represented in the mainstream press. Following an incident at the beginning of the year in which Jorge Molina, a reporter for the online daily El Mostrador, was forced from his job after posting the names of former torturers, there were no further reported government restrictions on the internet in 2006. More than 40 percent of Chileans accessed the internet during the year.